by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And Korach the son of Yitzhar, the son of K'has, the son of Levi, and
Dasan and Aviram the sons of Eliav, and On the son of Peles, the sons of
Reuven, took [themselves to the side]; and they rose up against Moshe,
along with men of the Children of Israel, 250 princes of the congregation,
honored by the assembly, men of a good name." [16:1-2]
Korach, Dasan, Aviram, and 250 leaders of the Jewish nation, united against
the leadership of Moshe and Aharon. They claimed that their intent was
good, but the Torah tells us that their argument was for their own benefit,
or simply for the sake of arguing. In fact, they are designated by our
Sages as the classic paradigm of an argument not made for the sake of Heaven.
The Yalkut Shimoni observes that Moshe tried repeatedly to reason with
Korach, and yet we find no response at all. The Yalkut explains that Korach
realized that if he were to respond, he would fail. "I know that Moshe is
extremely wise. He will enlighten me with his words, and I will be forced
to agree with him. Better I should ignore him entirely." When Moshe
realized that speaking with Korach was useless, he turned instead to Dasan
and Aviram - but they also did not bother to respond.
It is interesting that the Yalkut says that Dasan and Aviram did not
respond, because we find that they said, "we will not come up. Is it a
small thing that you have brought us up from a land flowing with milk and
honey, to put us to death in the desert, that you must also lift yourself
up over us?" [16:12-13] They did respond, didn't they?
Well, no. There's no answer there. Dasan and Aviram merely repeated
themselves, and refused to discuss the matter. And there is a further point
-- having refused to discuss, having no one to correct their most egregious
error, they then launched into a world of fantasy, characterizing Egypt
during their slavery as "a land flowing with milk and honey" -- terms used
by G-d to describe the Land of Israel! Failing to reason is no response at
all. Korach, Dasan, and Aviram all preferred making speeches over
addressing what Moshe was saying -- no matter how ridiculous their own
In Sichos Mussar, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt"l analyzes the difference
between Korach's rebellion, and the arguments of the students of Hillel and
Shammai, which are the classic example of an argument which is _for_ the
sake of Heaven. What was the difference? Hillel and Shammai were more than
willing to understand and address the other opinions. They did not disagree
for personal gain or simply to create an argument, but because they
honestly differed about which opinion was correct and true. The Halacha
follows the students of Hillel, and our Sages say that this is because
these students were so concerned for truth that not only did they teach the
opinions of Shammai, but they taught those contrary opinions even before
teaching their own. This was total dedication to truth.
The Chasam Sofer, in his Toras Moshe commentary, points out that Korach,
the 250 leaders, and Dasan and Aviram were not making the same argument.
Korach, for his part, acknowledged the special holiness of the tribe of
Levi, but argued against Moshe's leadership. He claimed that the leader
should be the oldest son of Amram, namely Aharon, and the High Priest
should be the oldest son of Yitzhar - namely, Korach himself! The Torah
says concerning Korach and his closest allies that "they arose against
Moshe" [16:2], because Korach had no argument against Aharon.
The 250 leaders, on the other hand, rejected the special nature of the
Levites overall. They were the first-born of their families, and the
special service had been their responsibility until G-d selected the tribe
of Levi "in exchange." For this reason, when the 250 are mentioned, the
Torah says "they assembled together against Moshe and against Aharon" [16:3].
In the final confrontation, Dasan and Aviram did not take pans of incense
like the 250 first-born. The Chasam Sofer concludes that they were not
interested in claiming the honors desired by the first-born, or by Korach
himself. They simply wanted to rebel, and claim that Moshe was a charlatan.
They themselves had no interest in the Temple service whatsoever.
These great differences between Korach, the first-born, and Dasan and
Aviram, are also an indicator of an argument "not for the sake of Heaven."
What would have happened if Moshe had "lost the argument"? Korach would
have assumed control, and then there would have been a fight between Korach
and the 250 first-born! They had no agreement with each other - they were
"united" only because they each disagreed with Moshe.
The text in the Sayings of the Fathers [5:17] reads, "which is an argument
for the sake of Heaven? This is the argument of Hillel and Shammai. And not
for the sake of Heaven? This is the argument of Korach and his entire
congregation." Note that there is no parallel between the two cases - the
latter should read "Korach and Moshe." The Medrash Shmuel explains that
while the motivations of both parties were the same in the first case, this
was not true in the latter. For this reason, Moshe and Aharon -- whose
motivations were pure -- could not be classified together with Korach.
Using the Chasam Sofer, we understand why this Mishnah says "Korach and his
entire congregation." They also argued with each other, but they, unlike
Moshe, shared the same motivation -- selfish gain! So there is, after all,
a parallel between the two cases in the Mishnah -- the latter is
specifically the argument between Korach and the 250 first-born, who argued
with each other, not for the sake of Heaven!
In any case, it is clear that Korach and the 250 first-born were not
concerned for truth, for if they were, they never could have presented a
"united front" against Moshe, given their own fundamental differences of
opinion. The only thing they shared was their opposition to Moshe -- but
the reasons for this opposition were themselves diametrically opposed.
It was a "marriage of convenience." The Torah validates a disagreement only
when the parties argue out of a sincere concern for truth, and when they
are willing to consider other serious opinions. Anything else is a
self-serving argument, which brings nothing but destruction in its wake.